Tragedy in the Adirondacks
By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
Starting in the late 19th century, the rustic landscape of the Adirondacks Mountain range in New York became the favored summer getaway for many prominent families. This became known as the Great Camp Period. However even paradise has its dark moments.
As early as the 1860s, newspaper stories described the splendid trout fishing at Osgood Pond.
In 1889, Henry Wilson bought land around the lake. Ten years later he sold the land along with buildings to Basil Wilson. In 1919, Senator McDougald from Canada bought it from Wilson's widow for $21,000. By then any of the buildings erected by Wilson were gone, and McDougald hired Benjamin A. Muncil to design and build what would become Northbrook Lodge.
There were four camps built on Osgood Pond at the turn of the century. They were White Pine Camp, once the summer house for Calvin Coolidge; Northbrook Lodge, a private estate; Camp Lu, the oldest on the pond and Beech Hill Camp. Most of them looked like log cabins, but made of wood frame construction covered with tree-sized logs and peeled birch bark. Inside there were ample fireplaces and unplastered walls. There were also tents with either brick chimneys and fireplaces or small wood-burning stoves.
A great dining room with a hearth fire greeted the campers when they gathered for meals.
Gardens, fountains and fish pools were designed to compliment the cottages set among the wilderness. A pump pushed water to each building. There were laundries, sewage systems, lighting and indoor plumbing. There were tennis courts, a gasoline pump, boat houses, woodsheds, workshop and even a bowling lane.
During his tenure there Senator McDougald was known to bring in illegal hooch since Prohibition was the law of the land.
In 1931, a parliamentary warrant was served on Senator MacDougald to give testimony concerning an alleged scandal in the Beauharnnois Company's St. Lawrence river concession.
By the 1950s, the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies and other prominent families had long ago abandoned the area, and it became a rental area especially favored during the summer months.
Unlike the scandal attached to Senator MacDougald, perhaps many happenings never came to light, because in those days, notoriety was something rich families avoided like the plague, but that doesn't mean nothing ever happened.
In 2015, the following story was posted on Reddit:
MURDER ON BIG MOOSE LAKE
On July 13, 1906, a woman's body was found in Big Moose Lake.
It was a mystery that shocked the country as it was unraveled in order to find who the culprit was.
It started when a young couple registered at the Glenmore Hotel in the Adirondacks as Carl Grahm of Albany and Grace Brown of Otselic.
The man carried a handbag with a tennis racket strapped to it. Shortly after arriving at the hotel they left and went to the boat landing, taking a canoe out upon the lake. They did not return, and the next day the boat was found bottom side up near Camp Craig.
The search yielded the body of the girl, found near the boat. She had marks and abrasions on her head. Since there were no rocks in this area of the lake, murder was immediately suspected.
The lake was dragged, but the man's body was not discovered. Only his hat was left on the shore of the lake.
Eventually the woman's identity was confirmed as Grace Brown, a farmer's daughter. For the last 3 years she worked in a shirt factory at Cortland. Four weeks before her death, she went back home, supposedly to vacation with her family, but this was unusual for a factory worker.
As her steps were retraced, it was found that a week before the murder she returned to Cortland, and was seen in the company of a Mr. Root and another unknown man.
Her father had only heard his daughter mention the name of Mr. Grahm, but had never met him. Mr Brown confirmed his daughter had not returned to her job or her boarding house on Wheeler Ave.
The authorities sent out a notice to all railroad stations to be on the watch for Grahm in case he was alive, and trying to escape.
Grace Brown known as Billy by her family was sent to Coroner Coffin of Herkimer County. His first impression was that she had been murdered.
Within a few days the man seen with Grace Brown was apprehended, and it turned out his real name was Chester Gillette. He was taken back to the hotel where he registered with the girl, and those who worked there identified him as the man who accompanied the victim.
His family owned the factory where Grace worked. He was considered an eligible and handsome bachelor, and it seemed that Grace was blind to the fact that due to a difference in their social status, he would never marry her. He frequently visited Miss Nettie Benedict daughter of a prominent lawyer in Cortland.
It was known he kept company with Grace, but that was all. When she returned home, she wrote him several times. A long conversation she had with him over the telephone, was overheard. She accused him of being false to her, and that he had deceived her. She looked to him to keep his promise.
The motive for the murder became obvious went it was confirmed that Grace was 4 months pregnant.
Gillette said the boat had tipped over and they had fallen in. He feared she would carry him down, and he shouted to her to catch hold of the boat, but she never did and sank, never to resurface.
By August he was indicted and charged with murder in the first degree. A tennis racquet with dark marks on it had been found, and it was believed Gillette had used it to strike Grace.
He went to trial in November, 1906. Later he claimed that Grace had jumped into the lake in order to commit suicide. Despite only circumstantial evidence being presented by the prosecution, Gillette was found guilty in December, and sentenced to die in the electric chair. Grace's letters to him were read aloud in court, which many believed led to his conviction.
It seemed he had set his plan in motion after Grace threatened that she would come to see him in Cortland, if he did not respond to her letters.
It wasn't until March 1908, that Gillette was executed at Auburn Prison. His body was buried in Soule Cemetery in an unmarked grave.
His notoriety extended even to his family who had to stay at the Salvation Army headquarters for a month before his execution, after they had been turned away from local boarding houses.
Gillette's body was autopsied and his organs were found to be normal. His brain was removed and preserved as were the lungs, kidneys and stomach.
On November 28, 1908, William S. Brasch who had befriended Gillette during their incarceration in condemned row met the same fate. He was convicted of the murder of his wife. Comparison were drawn between their crimes and their fate.
It seemed that Brasch had married his wife Roxanna Miller in 1904, a month before she gave birth to their daughter. He denied the paternity, but it seemed the marriage was an impediment to his relationship with another woman. On June 16, 1906, Brasch pushed his wife into the Erie canal at Maplewood Park in Rochester, and watched her death struggles until she drowned. He ran off with his lover Mary Gilmore to Cleveland where they were apprehended.
Brasch was no angel. The same year he married he confessed to taking precious metal from his employer, which amounted to about $20,000. He had been taking small nuggets of gold for three years.
Unlike Chester Gillette, the only member of Brasch's family that attended the trial was his brother George.
That same month of Brasch's execution, Rev. Henry McIlravy who had heard Gillette's confession on the day before his death, announced his intention of joining a Hawaiian leper colony to serve the inmates.
Almost a year later, in September, 1909, Rev. McIlravy who was well known for his evangelistic work in Little Falls was committed to the Utica State Hospital. The prior week he had been very violent, and threatened several persons with harm. It was believed "that the excitement incidental to his connection with that case (Gillette) caused his present mental condition." He came from a wealthy Brooklyn family. He recovered and died in 1950.
The murder of Grace Brown influenced the 1925 Adirondack folk song, The Ballad of Big Moose Lake. The 1951 movie A Place in the Sun, and other works including the 1925 novel An American Tragedy, and a 1926 play and 2005 opera of the same name were inspired by the crime.
If there was ever a setting for a ghost story, Moose Lake would be it. Beautiful but remote, its surface covers 1,242 acres; stretching 3 miles long and 1 mile wide; at its deepest point its murky waters plummet to 70 feet.
In winter, the lake freezes over. Only in the summer would people take a train to the Adirondack wilderness to spend their leisure time strolling along the lakeshore, and rowing canoes along its placid waters.
In 1996, Unsolved Mysteries aired an episode about sightings of Grace's ghost. It recounted how in 1988, several employees of the Covewood Lodge, when approaching the staff lodge, felt someone or something might be waiting inside the building.
I walked into the staff lodge, straight up the stairs with my hand out, reaching for the string, which is how to turn on the light. As I approached the top of the stairs and just before I was ready to turn on the light, a feeling came over me that somebody was right there. More or less, I stopped in my tracks and really just didn’t move. I didn’t have an overwhelming feeling of fright, but something definitely or someone was there, and it just kind of took my breath away.
Throughout the years, some say as far back as when she died Grace's spirit has been seen wandering along the lake shore, in the building or even reenacting the moment of her death.
On July 11, 2006, a small flotilla left a wreath to memorialize the centennial of Brown's murder.
Some may ask why Grace's spirit is uneasy, since her death was avenged. Perhaps she feels cheated of what she thought life promised her so many years ago: a husband, children and a chance to grow old, and even the death of the lover that betrayed her can bring her peace.
A CURSED EXISTENCE
James Weaver Smith a merchant of Jersey City married Wilhemia "Minnie" J. Midlegge on June 1, 1870. They soon had a daughter named Edith, and in 1877, Minnie gave birth to another daughter named Anna Mabel. For most of her life she would be known by her middle name of Mabel.
Her sister Edith married Garret Joseph Byrne in 1895. During those years, Mabel attended Barnard College graduating in 1899, and she went on to teach in the New York public schools. In 1903, she married William Shipman Douglass, who was also a merchant like her father. In 1906, their daughter Edith was born, and the following year a son followed, which was named after his father. All seemed well.
Whether she was high-strung or perhaps being a wife, mother and an active participant in the Federation of Women's Club took their toll, she had to take a break in 1915.
1917, would turn out not be a good year for Mabel Smith Douglass. In January her father James died, and in May her husband died of influenza. Mabel took over and operated the W. S. Douglass & Co., a butter, egg, and cheese business.
A widow with two young children, she continued in her efforts and in 1918, The New Jersey College for Women opened its doors. Appointed as its first dean, she moved with her children to the campus.
However five years later, tragedy stuck once more in Mabel's life. In 1923, William Shipman Douglass Jr. age 16 killed himself with his father's .22 caliber Winchester rifle. It happened after 11:30 p.m., when he had gone to bed. He had returned from spending time at Camp Wonposet on Bantam Lake in Connecticut. That night a party had been held to celebrate the return of William and his sister Edith from camp. Some newspapers described it as an accident, but other were not as gracious.
In 1924, Mabel received the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from Rutgers.
Five years later, Mabel Smith Douglass toured Europe with her daughter Edith, and upon her return went to spend time in the Adirondacks. In 1930, she bought Camp Honnedaga on the west shore of Lake Placid. She made extensive repairs to the camp, with plans to stay there during the winter. The camp had been in the Mills family for 40 years.
In 1932, it seems her health, physical and mental were failing. She took a leave of absence for a nervous breakdown. That year she received a degree of Doctor of Laws from Russell Sage College.
She retired in the summer of 1933, and left to spend time at the camp on Lake Placid. In the Fall of that year, at about 1:30 p.m. Mabel Douglass was seen by servants walking towards a row boat moored at a dock. She was never seen alive again, and no eye witnesses could be found to say whether she actually left on the boat.
Once dusk fell, the servants called the police. The next day the row boat was found capsized drifting near Pulpit Rock almost a mile from her camp.
The police dragged the lake, at the exact spot the boat was found. Bottom had never been reached in this part of the lake. A posse of campers searched the thick forest lands that skirted the lake.
The search continued into October. Grapplers worked every day and searchers resorted to using dynamite in hopes of bringing the body to the surface. The cold water made it difficult for divers to reach the bottom which was estimated to be more than 200 ft.
All knew she was dead, and her body was not found despite the efforts made to locate it. She was 56 years old when she disappeared.
In August, 1939, Mabel's sister, Edith Smith Byrne died.
Mabel's daughter, Edith Douglass had lost many of her close family members, but in March 1943, when she was 37 years old she wed Max Albert Roth. He was formerly part of the Swiss legation at Lisbon,Portugal.
However the cloud of misfortune that brought heartbreak to her mother was not done with her family. Five months after their wedding, her husband was killed on July 28, when a giant British passenger plane known as a flying boat crashed as it flew through thick fog.. He was a passenger when it left Lisbon destined for London. It went up in flames on a mountainside in a desolate area of southwest Ireland. Twelve of the 28 passengers and the crew aboard were killed.
In May, 1948, Edith Roth, 42, plunged to her death from the 8th floor window of her apartment in New York. She had called Rev. Sargent, rector of St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church who had officiated at her wedding in 1943. She had been his secretary until a few months before, when she resigned from work and went to Regent Hospital to treat her depression. She killed herself within hours after her discharge.
When the pastor arrived he spoke to her briefly, then she suddenly got up and went into another room moaning: "I just can't take it any more." She jumped from the bedroom window of her apartment at 405 East 54th Street. She had lived there alone since becoming a widow.
In 1955, The New Jersey College for Women changed its name to Douglass College to honor it first dean.
Almost 30 years to the day of her disappearance a decomposed body was found in Lake Placed by skin-divers, who were members of the Lake Champlain Wreck Raider Club. First they found an old guide boat on a rock shelf, as they continued down they saw a body on its side with its feet in a curled up position, almost as if she was asleep. It lay on a shelf about 95 feet down. It was so pale at first they thought it was a mannequin.
It was mostly intact, but when pulled up it started to disintegrate. What was left was taken to a pathologist, Dr. James Utterback from Saranac Lake. He said his preliminary findings were that it was indeed the body of Mabel Smith Douglass. He said the great coldness of the water held the tissue together almost in complete preservation.
One of the clues that led the positive identification of the remains was a broken upper right arm she suffered while a patient at a sanitarium a few months before she vanished.
Later the divers told police something that inexorably confirmed that Mabel had committed suicide. There was a rope around her neck with an anchor attached which they estimated weighed about 50 pounds.
Police were unable to locate any living relatives that might have helped in the investigation. The university claimed the body and made all arrangements for a proper burial. She was laid to rest in Greenwood Cemetery where her husband and children were buried.
Although her body was recovered,there have been sightings of a woman in the water by Pulpit Rock. Sometimes she's in the lake, other times she's hovering above the water. Over time this ghost has been named The Lady of the Lake..
However there have been others that have been claimed by Lake Placid, but two in particular disappeared at the same spot as Mabel Smith Douglass.
In 1923, two men drowned after their canoe overturned on Pulpit Rock. They had left on a trip to climb Whiteface Mountain, and only when they failed to return was a search started. On a ledge 6-feet under the water of Lake Placid they found one of them caught on a projection. His name was Ray Osborne, 32, years old. Initially the other man Patrick Greeley, 39, could not be found and there was fear he swam to shore and was suffering from exposure. There was no mention if he was ever found, and perhaps his body fell down in to the depths at the foot of Pulpit Rock, and like Mabel it was not recovered. Neither men was married, and their immediate family never had an answer as to what happened to them.
Perhaps The Lady of the Lake is not the only phantom that hovers over the still waters of Lake Placid.
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer